Holly Ebel: Small but sweet

September 26, 2018

There’s something about small town bakeries that is missing in those of supermarkets and big box stores. Nothing against those, because they certainly have a niche. What they lack is the ambiance, the aura, the home-town, welcoming feel of an old-fashioned bakery. Not to mention the aroma of freshly-baked.

When the big boys came to town, we worried they would put their smaller cousins out of business. Didn’t happen. Because these smaller, independent bakeries are important to the landscape of small town communities, we asked readers on social media: What are your favorite bakeries?

The answers came fast and furiously. It became abundantly clear that small-town bakeries are doing very well, thank you, and have a devoted following that can stretch back generations.

One such place is Bloedow’s Bakery in Winona, which may well be the oldest bakery in the state, certainly in southeastern Minnesota.

In business since 1925, it was owned and run by the Bloedow family until 2005, when it was sold to Hugh and Mary Polus, native Winonans.

Amazingly, many of their donuts, rolls and breads are still made from the recipes used on the first day of business so long ago. They also use Winona’s own Bay State flour. Big sellers include maple long johns and glazed donuts.

Another oldie but goodie is Otto’s Bakery in Byron, well-known beyond that town. Owners Ann and Otto Hemmah have been in business for the past 46 years and are still going strong along with help these days from daughter Julie.

Customers know to come early if they want an apple fritter, a Danish or a long john. Ann tells of one customer who moved away, and whenever they come back take home a big box of maple long johns. “They say ours are the best,” she said.

The Hemmahs have donated donuts every Sunday for years to Zumbro Lutheran Church.

What is it about maple frosted long johns that makes them such a top seller in so many bakeries? I don’t know, but they also are popular at the St. Charles Bakery.

In addition to the maple frosting, their other long johns have toppings of different crushed candy bars for a double sweet.

It was interesting to me that very few of the bakeries I spoke with have a wide selection of gluten-free items. In St. Charles, the bakery has a gluten-free monster cookie made with oatmeal, not flour.

What do they do with leftovers? “We hardly have anything left over,” said Donna Lang, with her husband Elroy one of the owners. “We pay close attention to numbers and try not to over-bake. We’ve been in business since 1976 and know quantities.”

Always a family business, the Lang children are also involved.

If you happen to be driving through Blooming Prairie, be sure to stop at The Bakery. Owner Greg Fristedt is proud of everything they bake, and it is a pretty complete selection — apple fritters, doughnuts, cookies of all kinds, caramel croissants, breads and buns.

“We carry the whole gamut, though pies and cakes need to be ordered ahead,” he said.

Especially popular during the holidays are his rosettes made with his special, secret formula. “They aren’t greasy,” he said.

Apparently the last independent bakery in Austin is Super Fresh, which also is part of a garden center. Owned by Jim Stiles, he also has a wide selection of bakery items including long johns — there they are again — cinnamon rolls, cookies and breads. The bakery recently won “Best Doughnut in Mower County,” something worth checking out.

Stiles also uses locally-grown fruits and berries in his pies.

“Berries are mostly over, but now we are gearing up for apples and apple pies,” he said.

A bakery mentioned by online readers many times as well was the Spring Valley Bakery. Sadly, it is temporarily closed.

A well-known and popular bakery in Caledonia is the Caledonia Bakery.

Providing baked goods for the community for 60 years, current owner Sue Klug has owned it for the past 13 years. Baker Paul J. Tewes has ruled the ovens for more than 30 years.

Among the specialties are the breads ranging from whole grain, pumpernickel, rye and Sue’s favorite, cranberry walnut. A variety of their pies are a big draw at the 4-H food stand during the Houston County Fair.

The bakery is especially known for its fruitcakes, chock full of fruits and pecans.

“Customers come from all over to get these, some will even buy 15-20 at a time,” Klug said. “They are awesome. Even those who don’t like fruitcake like ours.”

A heads-up if you plan to go by there — sales are by check or cash only.

Finally, don’t forget some of the other bakeries in our area: Those include Daube’s, Gingerbread House and Great Harvest in Rochester; Hanisch Bakery in Red Wing; Alicia Bakery in Austin; Winona Bread and Bagels, Winona; and Pembroke Bakery in Wabasha.

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